Designer interview: Meg Rowntree

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Meg Rowntree with her 2015 Interior Award.

Meg Rowntree with her 2015 Interior Award.

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MediaWorks offices.

MediaWorks offices.

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Welcome area in Christchurch airport.

Welcome area in Christchurch airport. Image: Stephen Goodenough

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Christchurch airport barista station.

Christchurch airport barista station. Image: Stephen Goodenough

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Air New Zealand regional lounge, Christchurch airport.

Air New Zealand regional lounge, Christchurch airport. Image: Stephen Goodenough

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Jasmax team.

Jasmax team.

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The 2015 Interior Award judges cited the Emerging Design Professional winner, Meg Rowntree, for the ‘clarity and warmth’ present in her designs. Rowntree talks to Kathleen Kinney about her inspirations and the future of interior design in New Zealand.

Kathleen Kinney: Did you want to work in architecture and interior design always… or, as a child, did you originally want to be something else ‘when you grew up’?

Meg Rowntree: As a young girl, I was fascinated with anatomy and biology and thought I might like to be a surgeon. During my schooling, I discovered my love for the arts and I developed a real fervour for creating and making things.

KK: What attracted you to interior design? And why commercial rather than residential?

MR: My attraction to interior design stems from an interest in people and how they interact with the spaces they inhabit. I think great interior design has the power to make people feel special. It can turn the routine and mundane into truly meaningful experiences. I enjoy the complexity of commercial interiors, from structural modifications to services co-ordination. Interestingly, these days we are finding increasingly that workplaces are moving away from corporate spaces and seeking to create the warmth of a hospitality or residential experience. So, in a sense, the two are blurring together and I can practise both on a daily basis.

KK: Which architects and design periods, or other creative people or pursuits, inspire you?

MR: I appreciate the quality and craftsmanship of Japanese and Scandinavian design, and the grounding of Dieter Rams’ 10 principles. There is freedom and reassurance in the repetitive geometric forms and patterning that you see in these examples – a sense of tranquility that they infer, and can bring to a space – just like the folded ceilings in the Air New Zealand Christchurch Regional Lounge.

KK: What are the key drivers during your design process?

MR: There are five key themes that underpin my practice: user experience, the craft of making, materiality, humanism and process. It’s elements of these themes that I try to apply to each project, but as each one takes a journey of its own, they’re applied in different measures as I get to know the clients and their visions.

Christchurch airport barista station. Image:  Stephen Goodenough

KK: How would you describe your relationships with your clients?

MR: I enjoy learning about my clients on a personal level. I design with the user experience in mind and so it’s important to have a deep understanding of my clients’ and stakeholders’ needs. I also like to have fun and have a laugh – design doesn’t have to be super-serious all the time!

KK: What do you enjoy most during the construction process?

MR: I love to see the design take shape on site and come alive. I also enjoy being part of a team of people who come from different disciplines all working together to achieve the design.

KK: What would you say has been your most satisfying project to date?

MR: That’s a tough question to answer; each of my projects has such a personal connection to me. I think I’m simply too close to each to offer an objective opinion here. I take great pleasure in the satisfaction and feedback from my clients and users of the spaces I create, I could choose from a whole variety, from MediaWorks and Smales Farm, to the Air New Zealand Christchurch Lounge.

KK: Have there been any big changes to your work, from when you started to now?

MR: I have more confidence in my practice and technical knowledge. I’ve grown my belief in the value of open-mindedness and not allowing myself to be restricted by what’s been done before. I enjoy trying new things in design and using materials in less obvious, untraditional ways.

KK: So, how would you describe your style or aesthetic…

MR: Oh, that’s a hard one… no one likes being put in a box! I love surprising people, so I guess I always try to include something unexpected – approaching each new project without a preconceived idea, just armed with experience and building the design based on how I get to know the client.

KK: What are you working on now?

MR: I have a number of projects on the go at the moment, including a 2,200m² fit-out for Lane Neave law firm currently under construction down in Christchurch, and working alongside ATEED on a co-work fit-out project for the GridAKL innovation precinct in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.

KK: What excites you about the future of commercial interiors and architecture in New Zealand?

MR: New Zealand has a real momentum for designing new ways of working. We’re pushing the frontier on workplace strategy – moving into that arena of examining how workplaces are going to look over the next decade, and how to make them robust to deal with these changes. There’s also the prominence of wellness and well-being, and the increasingly diverse workforce, which is adapting to different modes of working. This is especially relevant when we’re dealing with such fast-developing technology, which is facilitating this transition to flexible ways of working.

MediaWorks offices.

KK: What’s your dream project?

MR: A dream project would be one I could frequent. Designing at a human scale is important to me. I design with ritual and habit in mind, creating intuitive spaces that provide comfort through inferred familiarity. I constantly ask ‘how do people touch and experience the space with all of their senses?’ So a place that I can continue to experience – where I can observe the inhabitants’ behaviours – would be my ideal. It sounds kind of creepy but I like to people-watch and understand how people continue to inhabit the space after the project is completed; it’s a good way to expand my understanding of how design impacts behaviours.

KK: Outside of work… what are your interests? What do you do to relax and recharge?

MR: Food, exercise and craft. I love sampling everything Auckland’s eateries have to offer, and a Saturday morning full-cream Chemex coffee, with eggs and soldiers at home. Yoga’s my current fad – with the occasional hot yoga – and on the not-so-extreme side of things: snowboarding. I love craft and making, and more recently have been exploring pottery… exploring being the operative word. What I have in mind doesn’t always eventuate on the wheel! I also have a dream one day to have a large garden; in the meantime, I’ll be content with tending my potted garden.

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